Sleep deprivation might be causing some teenagers to engage in risky behaviors such as drinking and smoking, scientists have found in a new study.
Adolescents need eight to 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night, but between school and their social obligations, they often do not get enough sleep. Experts say that more than 70 percent of high school students do not get sufficient sleep, causing learning difficulties, impaired judgment, and other problems.
Researchers from the Brigham and Women's Hospital conducted a study linking sleep-duration and risk-taking behavior in teens. Using the national data sample over eight years, they found that the odds of unsafe actions of high school students are correlated to the amount of sleep they get at night.
The study found that teenagers who reported getting six hours of sleep or less are twice as likely to use alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and other drugs compared to those who sleep eight hours every night.
However, researchers found that the strongest association of not enough sleep is related to mental health. Students who get six hours of sleep or below are more than three times as likely to consider or attempt suicide. They are also four times more likely to commit suicide than their peers.
"Personal risk-taking behaviors are common precursors to accidents and suicides, which are the leading causes of death among teens and have important implications for the health and safety of high school students nationally," stated Matthew Weaver, a research fellow at the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, Brigham and Women Hospital.
Senior author Elizabeth Kierman, director of the Analytic Modeling Unit, Division of Sleep and Circadian Orders at Brigham and Women's Hospital, reiterated that insufficient sleep is putting teenagers at risk of mental health issues, substance abuse, and vehicular accidents.
She added that the public should support efforts aiming to promote healthy sleeping habits and decrease or eliminate factors that are preventing teenagers from getting the prescribed eight to 10 hours of sleep every night.
The researchers used data from the Youth Risk Surveys, which is administered biannually by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It involves students from both public and private schools across the United States.
The data was collected from 67,615 high school students from 2007 to 2017. The findings were published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.